Sustained parent involvement improves student performance

During the last decade there has been a quiet revolution going on in schools all across the country. School administrators and teachers, who previously advocated a ''hands off'' policy for families, are now actively encouraging the participation and involvement of parents in the affairs of the classroom.

Through questionnaires, interviews, and group meetings, school personnel obtain information necessary to develop workable parent education programs. Projects are developed around the specific concerns and needs of parents and their children. The result is a marked increase in parent involvement in scholastic matters.

But do involved parents really contribute to improved skills? The National Committee for Citizens in Education (NCCE) recently completed an analysis of 36 educational studies that dealt with school-based parent programs from around the country. ''The results of those studies showed that any kind of parent involvement has a positive effect on student achievement,'' says Chrissie Bamber of the NCCE.

Last year, at the Grandview Elementary School in Erie, Pa., 164 parents attended a series of eight ''Make and Take'' workshops that were presented by elementary teachers. At the workshops parents prepared reading and math materials for their youngsters and received instruction in teaching methods for helping their children at home. Robert Pollifrone, principal of the school, reported that the standardized test scores of the students whose parents participated in the program increased 9 percent in the course of one year. ''We can definitely attribute much of the increase to the involvement of parents in our school,'' Mr. Pollifrone said.

Educational programs for parents, which can be at the elementary or high school level or both, typically take one of two forms. There are those that are confined to the school itself and those that allow parents and children to share educational experiences at home. Here are two examples:

* Parent Resource Rooms have been set up in several schools in New Haven, Conn. These rooms allow parents to meet informally with school personnel to discuss their child's progress in reading, to construct reading games and activities for home use, and to borrow handbooks, activity sheets, and other reading materials to use with their children. The program is designed to enable parents and children to share positive learning experiences.

* Operation Fail-Safe in Houston is a multifaceted parent program based on the philosophy that responsibility for student achievement should be shared by the school, home, and community. Parents meet regularly with their children's teachers to review academic progress. A computer-printed list of math and reading activities is provided to parents for any specific skill deficiencies. In addition, parents also receive locally developed materials to share with their children in the home. Results from standardized tests given each year show that reading and math achievement in Grades 1-6 meets or exceeds the national average.

Parent programs initiated by the schools are not only beneficial in terms of improved student performance, but also in dollars and cents. ''Parent programs are the most cost-effective programs that schools can implement,'' says Dr. Dorothy Rich of the Home and School Institute. Some school programs, she says, ''can cost as much as $550 per pupil, whereas many parent programs are costing less than $20 per pupil.''

Funding for parent programs can come from a variety of sources, including the federal government, states, local communities, teacher organizations, various parent groups, or local businesses. Many parent projects have also been carried out with little or no additional cost to the local school district. Utilizing volunteer help and donated materials, these projects provide parents with additional opportunities to become active partners in the learning process.

But what about the decline or elimination of many educational programs? ''The budgetary restrictions schools are now experiencing make it imperative that educators actively solicit parent involvement,'' says Elaine Gardner, a reading specialist with the Orange County, Fla., public schools. ''By encouraging parents to help children learn, schools can counteract programs eliminated as a result of cutbacks.''

For more information on parent programs in schools, write National Committee for Citizens in Education, Suite 410, Wilde Lake Village Green, Columbia, Md. 21044, or the Home and School Institute, c/o Trinity College, Washington, D.C. 20017.

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